Discovering the Will of God

by Hoss McDonald

            The “Will of God”. What a simple yet awesome phrase. We know it exists. God certainly does will certain things to be. But are we so presumptuous to think that we could actually discern His will? Scripture says in,

Isaiah 55:8 (NASB95 Endnote ) “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.

Is Isaiah saying that God is so far above us and so different than us that we can’t possibly know what God wants? No he isn’t. He’s saying that our natural thoughts and actions are not like God’s. In our natural state God and man ARE completely different, because we’re in a fallen state as Paul reminded us in,

Romans 5:12 (NASB95) “....through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”

However, after we become Christians Paul tells us in

Galatians 3:13 (NASB95) “Christ redeemed us....”

We’ve been redeemed , restored, reconciled and set free from the burden of our sin. We are no longer totally of this world. The gulf that separated us, alienated us from God and His ways, has been bridged by His Son Jesus Christ. We read in Colossians,

Colossians 1:21-23 (NASB95) “....although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard....”

God’s process of restoration isn’t instantaneous in every aspect of our life. Much of that restoration takes time, as we learn to grow closer to Him. It’s up to us to take this new relationship seriously. To seek after Him. To never quit. To, as Paul put it, “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast”. We can’t be casual about our relationship with God.

As we learn to follow and know Him better and better, God restores us and our minds. We are finally able to begin hearing from Him and knowing Him as we couldn’t before, when we were alien and hostile to Him. Knowing God is a process that involves us heavily. He already knows us, completely. The work of learning to know Him, is all on our side.

How do we get to know Him? Read His Word, it tells us many, many things about Him. Step out in faith and trust Him in our lives. The results we see in our lives and of those fellow Christians around us, will show us more of who He is. And prayer lets us get to know Him more intimately, as well.

We are commanded many times in scripture to pray. For example:

1 Timothy 2:1 (NASB95) “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,”

Here we’re told to intercede for others. Next in,

James 5:14-15 (NASB95) “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up,....”

We are promised that if our prayer is offered in faith God can and will heal. In Isaiah we read,

Isaiah 55:6 (NASB95) “Seek the Lord while He may be found...”

Seek the Lord. Get closer to Him, through prayer. Last but not least in,

Philippians 4:6 (NASB95) “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Make all of our requests known to God through prayer. We are reminded that our prayers are to be offered with thankfulness. The answers to prayer are coming to us out of God’s goodness, not our worthiness.

Does God have to hear our prayer in order to know what we’re getting ready to ask him? Do our prayers spring anything new on God? Not really. He’s omniscient. He knows everything. So, if He already knows what our requests are before we make them, then why are we commanded to pray? The prayer is for our benefit more than God’s. It reminds us of who God is. That He is the all loving, all powerful God to whom we can entrust anything. We are reminded by our prayers that God is giving to us from His love for us. We build our own faith with our prayers. We wouldn’t waste our time praying if we didn’t have faith that God could answer our prayers, would we?

Would we pray to a dog or a wall for anything? Of course not. We wouldn’t waste our time praying to someone or something that is powerless to help. When we pray, we’re acknowledging that God IS able. We are reminded of who He really is, our all powerful, creator and redeemer without whom we can do nothing of real value. When we ask for anything, what can God answer except to say, “Yes, I already knew that.”

Even though God knows our every request before we make it, prayers are not a waste of time. God asks us in His Word to pray. So first, we’re being obedient to pray. The act of prayer builds OUR faith and then God acts in response to that faith.

So again, the job of obedience, trusting, having faith, thankfulness and seeking, is on our side of the equation. God already has everything down perfectly. He’s not still learning. We are.

We read in,

1 John 5:14 (NASB95) “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

Our prayers give us access to God. He hears us and he gives us anything we ask for! Not really.

This verse reminds us that we have to ask for things that are in God’s will for us. Well, what is God’s will for us? Reading scripture gives us the answer to many of our questions. Much of God’s will for us individually, as well as for all of mankind, is revealed in His Word.

In Romans Paul tells us,

Romans 12:2 (NASB95) “ not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So that which is good and acceptable and perfect is God’s will. All of our questions have been answered. Right? Not completely.

What about when God has put it on your heart to give $50.00 to his work. Which part of His work? All parts of His work are good.

You’re getting ready to go to college. Which one does God want you to go to?

Which job offer should you take?

Which church ministry should you devote your time to?

Who does God have planned to pastor our church? These questions could have multiple answers and there may not be just one good or acceptable answer to each question. Haven’t we all come to places in our lives where we wanted to know God’s will for us in a specific situation?

Can we find out what God’s will is for us? In,

Deuteronomy 4:29 (NASB95) “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.”

We can find God and discover what His will is for us if we seek Him. So as we’re driving down the road we can rip off a quick one line prayer and we get and easy answer? I don’t think so. This verse in Deuteronomy goes on and says “if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” Somehow this seems to imply that one liners don’t get us to the heart of God. We don’t get to know him intimately if we throwing up quick prayers or questions at the half-time of Monday Night Football on ABC.

We’re so used to multi-tasking all of the activities in our lives that it’s easy to put “Seeking God” on our “To Do” list and try to weave Him into the fabric of our day by inserting a thread in between all of the others things we’re doing. So often we stop weaving large squares of cloth into our day that are dedicated to our time with God. We begin weaving in smaller and smaller patches of cloth, that may eventually be the size of small scraps of our time and then to single threads that shorten into something that look more like specs of dust being scattered through the tapestry of our day. Somehow I don’t think Moses was promising that we could find God and His will for us with scattered specs of prayer dust spread through our busy day. We need to search for Him with all of our heart and all of our soul.

The choices we make in life ARE important. The consequences of those choices impact us and those around us, often very greatly. It’s very important to seek God’s advice. He knows everything and foresees every consequence. What’s so wonderful is that God has promised to share His wisdom with us. James said in

James 1:5-6 (NASB95) “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach....”

I read this from the New American Standard translation of the Bible. The New Living Translation puts it even more clearly in today’s language where it says,

James 1:5 “If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you....”

God will tell us what His will is for us. He promised. James in the next verse,

James 1:6 (NASB95) “But he must ask in faith without any doubting,......”

There is a condition. We must believe. Since prayer builds our faith, obviously an occasional prayer thrown up from the foxholes of life builds only a little faith. If we want answers, we have to have a faith, that isn’t riddled with doubt. We must have faith that there is an answer, that God is the one who has the answer, that He wants to give us the answer and that His answer is the right answer. Prayers with faith, with belief that God is the answer and that He wants us to have the answer, is the key to discovering God’s will. 

God doesn’t always shout the answer like a mighty rushing wind. He doesn’t often write the answer on the wall with His hand as He did for King Belshazzar. He rarely knocks us to the ground and speaks in an audible voice as He did with Paul. Oh, I know it would be nice to have our answers that clear cut but that isn’t normally how He speaks to us. God spoke to Elijah in the wilderness and he was told in,

1 Kings 19:11-13 (NASB95) “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said...”

The voice of God came to Him so quietly that the sound of gentle blowing of the wind might have hidden it, if He hadn’t been attentive. When God speaks to us it may not even be a quiet voice it may more commonly just a be a thought that pops into our mind as we pray. As we meditate on that thought, God will confirm it in our spirit if it’s from Him. His answers will always line up with Scripture. God never asks us to do anything that would go against His Word because His Word reveals God’s true nature and His expectations of us. Prayer must be a significant and regular part of our life if we are to hear from God and understand that we have an answer. We need to practice talking to and hearing from God.

Sometimes God’s will is revealed to us in events in our lives not always in words. Doors will be miraculously opened or closed in front of us. Events ordained by God are as much of an answer as anything He might reveal to us in our prayer time. If we practice our faith and prayer times faithfully we will grow in our discernment of His answers. We will see more of our prayers answered.

When God reveals His Will, do we have any responsibility in relation to the answer?

God revealed His will to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and Paul then said in,

1 Corinthians 9:16 (NASB95) “....woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”

“Woe is me” Paul said. He new he would be in real trouble if He didn’t preach the Gospel. God had said this is my will for you Paul and Paul new he had no other choice that would satisfy God’s plan. Have you ever done what you wanted after you knew God wanted something else from you? Did God honor your willful choice? Did your plans succeed? Paul wasn’t fearful that God would punish Him. Paul new that once God revealed His will for him, nothing less would satisfy Paul either. He new he would regret not following God’s plan, because God’s will is always perfect.

Paul later admonished one of the new ministers at Collosae in,

Colossians 4:17 (NIV) to “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

Once we have an answer we have responsibility to make God’s answer, our plan. Paul said to this young man, “see to it.” That means take it seriously, follow through, don’t ignore it. If we ask for and receive knowledge of God’s will for us we don’t really have more choices. We are obligated to follow His will.

I can remember some so-called prayers where I thought I was “seeking God’s will” for myself when I was a teen. Whenever a missionary would be invited to speak at our church they always called for people to pray about becoming missionaries. I remember that nearly every time I prayed I said something like this, “Oh, God if you want me to be a missionary I’ll be a missionary, But please God don’t send me to darkest Africa.”

Was I really seeking God’s will? I think I was seeking my own will while pretending to comply with the missionaries request to be open to a call to be a missionary. I didn’t really want a call unless it was on my terms. I think I knew that If I got a call to a place I didn’t like I was “stuck” with it. At that early age I realized that I had a responsibility to follow God’s call if it came. When I prayed and was asking to not be called because I didn’t really want God’s will for my life, I had my own plans. There’s an old adage this seems to fit the situation when we are seeking God’s will. “Don’t ask if you can’t stand the answer.”

If that adage describes where your heart is your heart needs some work. Our heart should always be glad to know God’s answer for us. It’s always the right answer. If we’re afraid of the answer, we need to get to know our Lord better.

Our attitude when we respond to God’s will for us often impacts how successfully we fulfill it. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by the assignment. Moses faltered like this when God revealed His will to him. As we read in,

Exodus 4:10-12 (NASB95) “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say. “

Did God’s response stop Moses from being afraid of this enormous assignment? NO. And we read on in the next verse in,

Exodus 4:13-15 “But he said, ‘Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.’ Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.”

Moses thought the assignment was to big for him. He didn’t really trust God to empower him. God altered His plan and brought Aaron into the picture. Moses and we will never know what would have been in Moses future if He had accepted God’s will fully. God still used Him. God didn’t reject him but Moses indeed didn’t get all of God’s blessings on His life.

If we look at God’s will in the natural, as Moses did, we could falter too. But God wants us to follow His will in the supernatural. In God’s supernatural power not just our own.

When Christ’s disciples were left here on Earth after Christ returned to heaven they were not left alone. They knew God’s will for their life and Christ left them a promise as we read in,

Acts 1:8 (NASB95) “ will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

What an assignment. But the Lord gave them the Holy Spirit to empower them to accomplish this world shaking effort. They weren’t asked to do it based on the own skills.

As Christians we can be empowered by this same Holy Spirit. We don’t have to operate in our own strength. We don’t have to be afraid to ask the question, because we will be empowered to accomplish the answer that God gives us.